Brewing Homebrew Beer with Powdered and Liquid Malt Extract
When we talk about brewing, we often mean the process of making beer from A to Z: everything from choosing your recipe, buying your homebrew ingredients – hops, yeast, malt, etc. – to cleaning and disinfecting your equipment, heating the grain, boiling, bottling and (the best bit) tasting your finished brew...
But more specifically, brewing refers to the process of extracting the sugars from the malted grains. There are two options for aspiring (and perspiring) brewers: either extracting the sugars from whole malted grains – All-grain brewing or using malt extract.
Malt extract is a malt concentrate that’s already been brewed, i.e. extracted for you, and sold either in liquid or powder form. While you might think it’s cheating, it’s a useful way to get a feel for the beer-making process, allowing you to focus on the hopping and fermentation stages while you learn the in-and-outs of brewing.
Malt extract is a super-versatile product, as it requires less equipment – no need for a brew kettle – and it can be used to correct the gravity – i.e. the fermentable sugars - at the end of boiling during all-grain brewing.
Brewing Beer from Malt Extract
As a general rule, the you can calculate the quantity of malt extract you need as follows:
· 1kg of powdered malt extract = 1.6kg of malted barley
· 1kg of liquid malt extract = 1.3kg of malt
Or, to put it another way…
· 1kg malted barley = 625g of powdered malt extract
· 1kg malted barley = 770g of liquid malt extract
· 1kg of liquid malt extract = 800g of powdered malt extract
· 1kg of powdered malt extract = 1.25kg of powdered malt extract
(Hope you were paying attention, there’ll be a short math quiz at the end…)
Starting your brewing career with malt extract not only lets you get comfortable with sanitizing, boiling and bottling, it also allows more time to invest in some of the more professional (and more expensive) equipment used for all-grain brewing like a grain mill, filter system, digital thermometer etc.
Making beer wort from malt extract
The first step - whether you’re brewing from all-grain or malt extract - it’s always worth boiling your water for about 30 minutes to get rid of the volatile chlorine. Start the process the day before you intend to make your, then let it cool in a clean, covered container. You can skip this stage by using bottled mineral water which is both chlorine-free and comes in a sterile bottle. If you’re going to brew your beer with bottled water, make sure the bottles stay sealed until right before you start brewing to avoid contamination.
Inventory, cleaning, sterilization
The most suitable place for mixing up your wort – the mix of water and ‘brewed’ malt - is the kitchen. It is always a good idea to make an inventory of all your equipment and ingredients before starting your brew. The equipment that will come into contact with the cooled wort before fermentation of your beer must be scrupulously cleaned with cleaning product and disinfectant (ChemiPro OXI, Star San HB...). Like we always say “cleanliness is next to godliness” (which is somewhere near Loch Ness, apparently).
Contamination of the brew with bacteria can mean the difference between success and failure, as foreign organisms (e. g. bacteria and wild yeasts) will grow faster and eventually overtake your brewing yeast. The boiling stage acts like pasteurization, but as soon as the boiling is finished and you start cooling your brew, any equipment coming in contact with it must be disinfected.
To brew 20 litres of beer you will need approximately:
5kg of malt extract, to reach a Starting Gravity or Original Gravity (SG or OG – the amount of sugar before fermentation starts) of around 1095 (or 9.6% ABV)
4 kg of malt extract, to reach a Starting Gravity around 1075 (or 7.6% v/v alcohol)
3 kg of malt extract, to reach a Starting Gravity around 1055 (or 5.7% v/v alcohol)
How to dilute malt extract with water
This step is dead easy. Heat the water you sterilised the day before to 80 -100°C. Pour the powdered malt extract from the recipe kit into the water and mix well to prevent lumps from forming.
If you’re using liquid malt extract, gently heat the can of malt to make it more fluid, then pour it into the hot water. Swish some more hot water round the can to dissolve the last of the stick malt.
The beginning of boiling is often accompanied by a rather impressive foam formation, so keep an eye on your cooking pot to prevent overflowing. If it’s looking a bit too foamy, turndown the gas or remove your pot from the heat source and the foam will disappear all by itself. Some kits offer additional ‘adjunct’ grains. Cool the water to 60-76°C , add the grain and let it steep for 20 minutes. NOTE: the temperature must not exceed 78°C during these 20 minutes as this will kill the enzymes in the malt and prevent any sugars be extracted.
Hopping your beer
Extraction of the aroma and bitterness from hops works better in less concentrated (i.e. the more diluted) wort. A lower concentration also helps prevent your wort from burning and sticking to the bottom of the cooking pot if the heat gets too high.
While some liquid malt extract kits also contain hops extract, if you are brewing with un-hopped liquid malt, or powdered malt extract recipes then you’ll need to add aromatic and bittering hops. The hopping phase starts with adding the first hops variety - usually the bittering hops profile – once the beer reaches 100°C. The aroma hops are added later on, towards the end of boiling as the compounds are more fragile and break down more easily.
When the hops are added, the wort will foam like crazy. We recommend using a hop bag in order to keep the hops together and make it easier to recover at the end of boiling. The aromatic hop is added towards the end of the brewing process and at the end of the boiling process, we recommend that you make a Whirpool. It is a matter of making a whirlpool at your wort so that the impurities of the hops meet in the centre of your tank.
Cooling your wort, hopping and making a whirlpool
There are several techniques for cooling the wort (natural method, cooling coil, plate exchanger). However you choose to cool it, it is essential to cool your wort as quickly as possible because infections flourish easily between 20 and 70°C. It’s also essential to use clean, sterile equipment once you turn off the heat under your wort. Natural cooling can be long and risky for the wort as it spends a long time in the infection danger-zone before it is cool enough to start. If you choose to let your wort cool naturally, make sure the lid is on tight to stop airborne contamination. Place your tank in the sink (or bathtub if you can move it safely) and fill the sink with cold water. Don’t overfill the sink or your tank can start floating and tip over. Change the cooling water regularly until the wort reaches the ideal temperature for the yeast (see the sachet for details, but it’s usually around 20°C).
Transfer the wort to your sterilised fermenter and add the some of the water you sterilised the day before to arrive at the desired volume of beer. Stir with a sterile spatula and add the yeast. The purpose of stirring is to oxygenate your wort so that the yeast can multiply.
Remember to measure your Starting Gravity using your hydrometer by taking a small amount of wort in a sterile test tube . Discard the sample after measurement – returning it to your fermenter can introduce contamination too! Close your fermenter, fill the airlock halfway with sterilizing liquid and place it in a warm place to let the yeast do its yeasty thing!